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'Inappropriate' Tanaiste Leo Varadkar under fire after IMO pay deal document 'leak'

Yesterday, he mounted a vigorous defence of his actions, but admitted he had not followed “best practice” in providing the report to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is expected to face sustained questioning in the Dáil after it was confirmed he disclosed a confidential doctors’ pay deal agreement not intended for circulation.

Mr Varadkar has confirmed he provided the draft report outlining a pay agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to a rival representative group of doctors.

Yesterday, he mounted a vigorous defence of his actions, but admitted he had not followed “best practice” in providing the report to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

The Tánaiste spoke by telephone with the Taoiseach, Micháel Martin, before he released a detailed statement.

However, the Sunday Independent understands that Mr Martin is unhappy with his Fine Gael counterpart and believes it was “not appropriate” for him to disclose a copy of the agreement before it was published or agreed by the IMO membership.

Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar agreed the Tánaiste should address the Dáil and take questions on the controversy.

A senior Fianna Fáil source said: “The Taoiseach is of the view that the action was not best practice as sending a document of this kind in such a manner was inappropriate.”

The words used are similar to those contained in Mr Varadkar’s statement, indicating a degree of co-ordination between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. However, Fianna Fáil sources remain concerned that further information around the disclosure may yet emerge.

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Julien Behal/PA)

Last night the Green Party said “further scrutiny” of the timelines and the impact of the “disclosure” to the NAGP is needed.

“The party is calling on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil on the issue and to allow sufficient time for the statement followed by questioning,” the party said.

“It is clear from what has been revealed that the passing on of sensitive information in this manner was not appropriate,” it added

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There was also anger in Fine Gael yesterday when it emerged Mr Varadkar had not followed proper channels when providing the contract to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, president of the now defunct NAGP.

It is also understood then health minister, Simon Harris,was not aware the document was sent to Dr Ó Tuathail.

The controversy is expected to continue into next week when Opposition TDs will question the Tánaiste.

In a lengthy statement, Mr Varadkar admitted he did not follow "best practice" and said he "regrets" he did not provide a copy of the agreement the NAGP in a "more appropriately formal manner".

However, Mr Varadkar insisted he did not act unlawfully or break any codes of conduct or rules for office holders.

The Tánaiste's statement followed the publication of allegations in the Village Magazine saying he sent Dr Ó Tuathail a copy of a document marked 'confidential/not for circulation' outlining a proposed new GP contract the Government agreed with the IMO. Mr Varadkar said the deal was a positive one for GPs and one that the Government wished to see implemented.

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Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

"He hoped to use Dr Ó Tuathail's influence to encourage all GPs to accept it including those represented by NAGP," the statement said. "The agreement had been negotiated with (and was therefore already in the possession of) the IMO, and the publication or circulation of the agreement to the members of the IMO was within the discretion of the IMO, which had already issued a press release setting out its essential content.

"The provision of the agreement to Dr Ó Tuathail requires to be seen in the context of the potential unfairness of one representative body for General Practitioners (the IMO) having access to the agreement at a time when the other representative body (the NAGP) did not," it adds.

The statement says the Government "had publicly committed to keep the NAGP informed as to the progress of negotiations on the agreement".

"Therefore, the provision of a copy of the agreed and publicly announced agreement by the Taoiseach to the president of the NAGP was honouring a political commitment previously made by the Government. It is important to emphasise that by that point, the agreement had been agreed and its content had been publicly announced previously," it adds.

On April 5, 2019, the IMO issued a press release announcing they had reached a deal with the Government on a new GP contract. They also outlined some of the terms reached in the new agreement. The following day, Mr Varadkar, who was then Taoiseach, and Health Minister Simon Harris issued a statement welcoming the agreement.

The 108-page 'Terms of Agreement between the Department of Health, the HSE and the IMO regarding GP Contractual Reform and Service Development' was not published in full until May 17.

However, Mr Varadkar said he provided a copy of the agreement to Dr Ó Tuathail on a date between April 11 and 16, 2019. An image of the document sent to the then NAGP president included a handwritten note saying the agreement was "subject to amendment/changes".

"The Tánaiste accepts that the provision of the Agreement by an informal communication channel to the president of the NAGP was not best practice and he regrets that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner," Mr Varadkar's statement said.

Meanwhile, former IMO president Dr John Duddy said that the Tánaiste's actions "completely undermine the concept of negotiating with licensed trade unions".

"Regardless of the legalities, the fact remains someone in power gave a confidential agreement to a third party who could potentially benefit from knowledge of its contents," Dr Duddy wrote on Twitter.

Dr Duddy said trade unions should "unite to condemn" Mr Varadkar's action.

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